Cambridge shows solidarity for UK-wide climate justice ‘day of action’
Hundreds of people took part in a march through the centre of Cambridge this weekend as part of a UK-wide day of action half-way through the COP26 UN global climate summit in Glasgow.
People of all generations gathered on King’s Parade at 1pm on Saturday for the event organised by Cambs COP26 Coalition, a civil society coalition made of a range of local groups working on environmental issues and social justice. They were part of a national event, part protest, part support, aimed at encouraging delegates in Glasgow for COP26 to reach binding international agreements to reduce global warming.
Good-natured, vocal and enthusiastic, around 1,000 set off to Parker’s Piece for a rally. They were led by a group of local artists, mostly women, who carried an “umbilical cord” more than 1 km long made from reused art, rags, yarn and other objects. The cord was crafted by local artists Jill Eastland and Cathy Dunbar.
“We have created a umbilical cord, more than a kilometre long, as a metaphor for our connections to each other and the planet,” said Jill. “It is an exercise in solidarity and is being created from reused art, rags, yarn, found objects and everyday detritus. We have stitched together hundreds of pieces made by different people to create the cord.”
At Parker’s Piece the crowd settled in to hear musicians and speakers espousing solidarity with colleagues in Glasgow.
First up was a recording of Greta Thunberg speaking from Glasgow, where she described the summit as “a global greenwashing festival”.
The first speaker was Daisy Thomas, a member of Cambridge Climate Justice campaign and a third year University of Cambridge student. Her free-ranging speech outlined now-familiar concerns the climate justice movement has with the university – including the ‘marketisation of education’, the legacy of colonialism, ongoing difficulties with disinvestment from the fossil fuel industry – and concluded with a call for the ‘democratisation’ of the university.
“We need system change from the ground up,” Daisy said to applause.
She was followed by Flaming June, the first of three musical contributions which later included Citrus George & Heidi, and Rachel Caldwell.
Compere Nick Skelton reminded the audience that “the system isn’t broken, it was never set up right in the first place”.
Next up was Junayd Islam, familiar to the community as a founder member of Cambridge Schools Eco Council, climate activist and a member of the Friends of River Cam.
Junayd reminded the audience of the problems we face – floods, fires, air quality, airport expansions, new coal mines and water scarcity, plus the increasing awareness that “every single river in England has been declared as of ‘poor environmental status’ in a report by the Environment Agency”. He reiterated that the top five UK banks have increased their investments in the fossil fuel industry to the tune of £145bn.
Junayd was particularly exercised by the “military-industrial arms sector”, which he claimed is “the world’s single biggest polluter”, including the largest oil spill in history – 380m barrels of crude oil were dumped into the Gulf during the Gulf War.
“We must end illegal wars,” he concluded.
Austin Harney, the first autistic member of the national executive of the PCS union, then described how climate change, and its poverty-inducing consequences, impact the disabled “who are already being hit by poverty”.
At 3pm participants “sounded the alarm”, setting off alarm clocks and phone alarms, signalling the urgency that world leaders at COP26 “wake up” to the climate crisis.
COP26 is something of a turning point. Across the world and across movements, people standing up and making their voices heard through global solidarity and grassroots organising. But in Glasgow, Cambridge-based activist walker and justice campaigner Pushpranath ‘Push’ Krishnamurthy has described mixed feelings about the conference, from the “sharp and clear” people he met on his month-long walk to the city, to the “heartbreaking” and “sterile” experience of the Blue Zone at COP26.
“The walk overall has been fantastic,” he told the Cambridge Independent on Saturday night. “22 families hosted me, most I’d never met, they cared for me with love and affection and most of all shared their stories of themselves and their climate concerns, past present and future.
“I met spoke to around 2,000 students and church meetings on the way. It was really heartening meeting them: they are sharp and clear about what they want.
“Today I got into the Blue Zone: a boy in Cumbria said keep knocking at the door so I did. It was raining and I was really honoured as key person from the Cabinet office came to bring me inside. I had a full discussion with the Climate and Environment team, I told them how people are suffering differentially and how climate change impacts poorer people.
“But the sad thing is that the Green Zone – that’s where all the local organisations are – is quite separated from the main one, it was heartbreaking. They are half a mile away, they can’t walk between the two. There is no interaction like there was in Copenhagen (COP15 took place in Copenhagen in 2009), so civic people and communities aren’t going to be noticed.
“This is a systematic exclusion of the participation of the larger number of people. The Blue Zone is sterile and is really heavily vetted, but there have been some serious discussions about forest protection.”
Push added that he was overjoyed by the send-off he got from Cambridge.
“The councillors (Hilary Cox Condron, Katie Thornburrow and Alex Bulat) gave me a such great lift-off, they put the wind behind me to take me here. Even though on a personal level my body got battered and buckled, I was never broken.”
Read the full interview in next week’s Cambridge Independent.